I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)

I really need to focus and stop being distracted by shiny objects.

Stupid fucking shiny objects, anyway.

But there are so many, and they’re all so glittery and pretty and interesting.

It’s a wonder I get anything done.

Every once in a while, like now, I allow myself to get completely scattered and my inability to say no to people gets me into trouble; I then get overwhelmed and paralyzed with fear that I’ll never get everything done…thereby ensuring I won’t get everything done–or if I do, I’ll basically have to kill myself to get it all done on time. Heavy heaving sigh.

But at least now I’m aware I’m doing it again, which should count for something.

I took stock yesterday of everything I am doing, everything I’ve promised, and everything I’m in the middle of–and it was quite staggering. I have, as I said before, promised three short stories, only one of which has a completed draft (the others are still just ideas, waiting to be born on the page); I am working on a massive short-term project; a massive long term all year one; I am five chapters shy of finishing a first draft of a novel; have another novel manuscript that will need at least another two drafts; have written the first drafts of two first chapters of new novels; have a lengthy novella whose publication fell through that can be revised and rewritten and turned into a novel; and have about thirty or forty short stories and essays in some form of being written….and I keep having ideas, new ones for stories or novels, every day. Just this week I came up with another book idea called Another Random Shooting, which I quite like, and three short stories–“Festival of the Redeemer,” “Hot, Humid, Chance of Rain,” and “Flood Stage.” Yikes. I also have to run errands today–mail, bank, groceries–and am hopeful I will get some things done today and tomorrow. I slept really well last night–am still a bit groggy this morning, while i wait for the coffee to kick in. I think, probably, when I finish this I am going to go sit in my easy chair and read the Steph Cha novel. It’s really quite good, and I like the idea of spending my Saturday mornings reading a good book.

Yesterday when I got home from the office, I finished doing the laundry (bed linens every Friday), cleaned the kitchen and did the dishes, cleaned the Lost Apartment (still need to do the floors), and did some filing. My office space is always, it seems, a mess; something I’m never sure how to resolve. The truth is my office space is too small, always has been; but the primary problem that goes along with that is there isn’t any other place for my office to be located here in the Lost Apartment. Our apartment is, especially by New York/DC standards enormous, especially given what we pay for it–we’ll never be able to move because we will never find anything comparable at the same price; I’m not even certain one can get a studio for what we pay in rent. And, if I’m being completely honest, having a room dedicated to being my office would eventually not be big enough, either, as I tend to expand to fill space. But I still dream of the day when I’ll have an entire room for my office space. Anyway, when Paul got home I made Swedish meatballs (I do love cooking, I just rarely get the chance to do it anymore), and we got caught up on Animal Kingdom, and then finished The Boys, which is fucking fantastic. It occurred to me last night as I watched those final two episodes, that a world with super-heroes would probably be more akin to Greek mythology than the comic book worlds we see in most super-hero stories; capricious, mercurial beings with amazing, seemingly limitless powers, and all humankind would be at their mercy. I also liked that the human male lead, Hughie, is played by Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan’s son Jack–and he’s quite good, and looks nothing like either of his parents–although sometimes you get a glimpse of one or the other. I have to say I liked this show a lot more than I thought I would, and we’re both looking forward to Season 2.

I think tonight we might dip into Years and Years on HBO. One can never go wrong with Emma Thompson.

Yesterday I reread my short story “Fireflies” in order to make some notes on it. I originally wrote “Fireflies” in long hand in a notebook back in the 1980’s–it’s another one of those “from the vault” stories–and I’ve worked on it, off and on, since the original draft was written. It was always slightly off, and the original ending was terrible. Fast forward, and last year I was looking at it again, and thinking about revising it, when I was invited to submit a short story to a horror anthology. I decided to use “Fireflies,” and I revised it and rewrote it a bit, smoothed over the rough transitions, made it flow better, and changed the ending along with some additions to the narrative to make it not only tighter but stronger. After submitting the story, I was contacted by the publisher and officially commissioned to write a story for the book. The anthology had a broad submissions call, anything from noir to pulp to outright horror, but every story had to have a paranormal element to it. They commissioned a pulpy noir story, and when I mentioned I’d submitted something already, they were very nice about specifically wanting the new story and would still consider the other; I wound up writing “A Whisper from the Graveyard” for it, and a few months ago they finally decided not to use “Fireflies”–but were interested in it as a novella; the true problem with “Fireflies” was its length. I immediately saw the value of the critique; I never think of writing in terms of novellas or novelettes (primarily because there really isn’t a market for these longer stories that are too short to be novels), and so made a note to reread the story and see what possibilities there were for it. So, I did that yesterday, and I was correct–the story would work better as a longer novella. I’ve written novellas before–“The Nightwatchers” and “Blood on the Moon” for those Kensington omnibus books, and I self-published “Quiet Desperation”” myself on Amazon. One of the projects I am in the midst of, “Never Kiss a Stranger,” is also going to be a longer, possibly novella length, story; I’d always thought of it from the beginning that way, and will probably self-publish it at some point on Amazon once I finish it.

“Fireflies” is another Alabama story, which means another “Corinth County” story. It was inspired by the Fleetwood Mac song, “Fireflies”, even though they have nothing to do with each other as far as content. The only connection other than the title is mood; I wanted to get the mood of the song into the story, and I think I succeeded. The song is one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac recordings, and only appears on the Fleetwood Mac Live double album. Ironically, it’s a studio recording they mixed crowd noises into, so it wouldn’t seem out of place on the live album; the original version is on Youtube without the crowd noises. I’d say the story is also strongly influenced by Thomas Tryon’s The Other, which is one of my favorite novels of all time (and overdue for a reread, as are The Haunting of Hill House and Rebecca), and I still think someone should do a biography of Tryon. I’d do it, but my research skills are subpar and non-fiction is also not my strength. But Tryon is fascinating to me–a relatively successful actor who was closeted and never quite attained stardom; then gave up on acting and turned to writing. He was also the longtime lover of the first gay porn star, Casey Donovan, of Boys in the Sand fame. Anyway, I digress (damned shiny objects, anyway). The point is there are so many Alabama stories in my files that have never been published; I think the only Alabama/Corinth County stories that have been published are “Small-town Boy” and “Son of a Preacher Man,” as well as the novel Dark Tide, which may not be actually set there but the main character is from there. Bury Me in Shadows is the first full-length thing set in Alabama for me to get this far with, and it–and “Fireflies”–are reconnecting me to everything.

I also keep thinking I need to go back there, just to drive through and take pictures, get a feel for the place again, refresh my memories.

This is how the story opens:

Jem slapped at a horsefly buzzing around his ear. He hated horseflies. They bit and left welts that hurt.

“God commands us to HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER!” Brother Killingsworth thundered from his pulpit to a chorus of scattered amens inside the little chapel. Jem could hear the sermon clearly because the screened windows were open to catch whatever cooling breeze there might be on this hot July Sunday. He could hear the fluttering of paper fans, the creak from the turning of the blades of the ceiling fans.

The Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior didn’t believe in air conditioning because the faithful suffered in the heat to listen to the Lord preach back in the Holy Land, wiping the sweat from their brows and letting the cloth stick to their wet bodies. And if that was good enough for the ones who gathered to hear the word of Jesus, it was the least the flock of the Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior could do, am I right and can I get an amen, brothers and sisters?

“Little better than snake handlers,” Jem’s mama would sniff with that mean look on her face, shaking her finger in his face, even though it wasn’t polite to point, “and you’d better stay away from there. You hear me, boy?”

Not bad at all.

And now back to the spice mines.

IMG_1995

Born in the USA

Were I to ever write a memoir, I suppose the easiest thing to do would be divide my life into chapters of every ten years or so; my life has sort of been divided that way, almost corresponding with the calendar decades. I was born in 1961; ten years later one chapter of my life closed and another opened when we moved from the city to the suburbs; ten years later we left Kansas for California; 1991 marked my move to Florida, and 2001 was the return to New Orleans from a year in Washington D.C. (what I often refer to, in my head, as ‘the lost year of misery’). 2011 was the year I turned fifty, the aughts being my first full decade of living in New Orleans. Those chapters could then be divided into smaller brackets; the years in the suburbs, the years in Kansas, the bridging year in Houston, the transitional months in Minneapolis, the pre-published years in New Orleans; the pre-Katrina time as a published author, the post Katrina recovery years; I supposed I could mark 2011 as the beginning of another time, the manic productive years when I wrote so many novels and edited so many anthologies and so many short stories. 2017 was the year I took off, to catch my breath and relax and recharge and recover; it was also the year of paralyzing self-doubt and terror that I was never going to write again. Sometimes I wonder if the manic years were precisely what they were because of that fear: the fear that if I ever stopped I would never start again, that I would never start again.

One would think now, after the prodigious output of the last seventeen years or so, I would never doubt myself anymore, would never fear the fount might run dry; but I am just as worried and nervous and as full of doubts as I was in the years I dreamed of making this my reality and wrote and wrote and wrote. It never gets easier, the doubts and fears never go away. At least not for me; I cannot speak for other writers. But I do define myself as a writer. That has been my identity since I signed that first contract all those years ago; above every other identity I can be labelled, be it male or gay or American or New Orleanian or Southern; above and beyond all else I identify as author. 

In an interview recently about Lindsey Buckingham’s departure from the band and Fleetwood Mac’s decision to continue, and tour, without him, Stevie Nicks said, This is terribly sad for me, but I want to be happy and enjoy the next ten years. That may not be the exact quote, but its very close to what she said, and it hit me right at the core of my being. She–and the others–have always been about writing and creating and performing their music; but now they are getting older and wondering how much more time to do they have to do this thing they love so much? I would imagine Tom Petty’s death weighed pretty heavily on her; they were very close. It also made me feel my own age, and wonder about my own future. How many more years do I have to write the books and stories that I want to? What will I do if the day ever comes when I cannot do this anymore, when people don’t want to read what I’ve written, when no publisher wants to invest in getting my work out to readers?

Heavy thoughts, indeed, my own mortality isn’t something I’ve ever cared enough about to think about. But I would imagine, that no matter what else happens in my life, as long as I can type, as long as I can sit up in my chair and see my computer screen, I will keep writing. This compulsion will probably never go away; I know the stories will most likely never stop coming to my mind. Even when I wasn’t writing last year, the ideas were still coming; characters and stories and plots and those stray thoughts that always begin wouldn’t it be interesting if or I wonder what would make a person do such a thing or I wonder what would happen if…

My conscious decision at the beginning of this year to focus on writing, on rediscovering the joy I once always felt when I was creating, the sense of satisfaction felt upon finishing my work for the day, was perhaps the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I do enjoy doing this, even when it frustrates me, when the words won’t come, when I get behind, when I procrastinate and don’t do it even when I know I must, and that the best way to fight off those horrible self-doubts and fears and insecurities is to just fucking do it.

Nothing else matters, really, when it all comes down to it.

Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win?)

I first read Mary Leader’s novel Triad when I was either eleven or twelve. I was creepy, and I really enjoyed it; but I had trouble pronouncing one of the character names: Rhiannon. It was a Welsh name, of course, and I’d never heard it before, so I was pronouncing it RYE-uh-none. I actually thought it was an ugly name. Flash forward a few years, and I heard a song unlike any other I’d ever heard before on the radio–KCMO AM out of Kansas City, I think it was–and after it was finished playing, the deejay said it was “Ree-ANN-un” by Fleetwood Mac (a band I’d never heard of). The next time I was at a record store, I looked for it in the 45’s rack, and there it was: RHIANNON (Will You Ever Win” by Fleetwood Mac.

url

Oh, THAT’S how you say it, I thought to myself, and bought it. I eventually bought the entire album–one of the first albums I’d ever owned that I could listen to from beginning to end–and have been a Fleetwood Mac fan ever since.

A few years ago, I either read an interview with her, or saw her talking about the song on television somewhere, and Stevie Nicks said she’d read a book where she came across the name, and the book actually inspired the song. It was one of those moments where you feel a connection with an artist you love (“Oh my God, I read that book too!”)

Recently, and I don’t remember where or how or why; it may have been my October blogging, but as I said, I don’t remember how, but I remembered the book again. I hadn’t read it in over forty years, and I remembered that the author had written another book I’d enjoyed–Salem’s Children–and so I went on-line and ordered copies of both.

And I reread Triad this past week.

triad

It didn’t start all of a sudden. As I think back now, there were so many little unexplained incidents that I shoved aside and forgot about until later. There began to be those gaps in my life, little ones at first, but then longer and longer as time went on. I would wonder if my memory was failing me and I worried about the headaches to which I’d become prone, but my doctor told me that it was probably shock due to the baby’s death.

That has been so unexpected. I put him to bed one night, all rosy and dimpled with health. He looked at me with those big bright eyes, as he lay fingering the handle of his rattle, then drowsiness drew down his lids and he flipped over on his stomach as he always did and went to sleep with his fist curled around the rattle. The next morning I awakened to the sound of children on their way to school and the disposal truck grinding garbage under our apartment window. Alan was away on one of his projects, so I must have slept right through breakfast. I started to stretch lazily in those moments of waking when one lies between forgetting and remembering, and then sat up with a jerk. Timmy has missed his four o’clock feeding! Had he called and I hadn’t heard him? That wasn’t possible. I always woke at the slightest sound he made. I hurried to the crib and there he was, just as I had left him, but his little body was cold.

“Unexplained crib death” was what the doctor wrote on the death certificate after the autopsy, which meant that Timmy went to sleep a normal child and just stopped breathing for no apparent reason.

Branwen is our young point of view heroine, and the sudden, unexpected death of her child has obviously had a terrible effect on her; I cannot even imagine what it must be like to lose a child, let alone a baby. In an effort to get her over the tragedy, she and her husband, Alan–a civil engineer who is thus away for work most of the time–leave their Chicago apartment behind and buy a beautiful old Victorian house in a small town north of the city on the lake shore.

And then the weird things start happening.

Branwen has guarded a secret most of her life, you see. When she was a little girl she had an older cousin, Rhiannon–their parents were two sets of identical twins–who was jealous and cruel to her, and as such, Branwen hated her. After Rhiannon killed a kitten of Branwen’s–and made it look like it was Branwen’s fault–during a game of hide-and-seek, Rhiannon was inside an old freezer, and Branwen closed the lid on her.

Unfortunately, the handle broke and she wasn’t able to get her out. She went for help, but by the time she was able to get help, Rhiannon was dead.

And now, in the big empty house, with its speaking tubes and old-fashioned stylings, she can hear Rhiannon whispering to her…and strange things start happening.

Has Rhiannon come back? Is the house haunted? Has the loss of her child driven her mad? Is she being possessed?

The atmosphere of the book is terrifying and creepy–those speaking tubes! One of the things I remembered before the reread, over forty years later, was the speaking tubes and the hollow voices coming out of them.

In tone and voice and atmosphere, it’s very similar to Thomas Tryon’s The Other as well as something Shirley Jackson might have written.

Long out of print, it’s a shame. The book is a gem of a read, and short–less than 200 pages–and it’s also a shame Leader only wrote two books.

And as you read it, you can see echoes of the Stevie Nicks song in its pages, and you can see how it inspired her to write the song.

It’s a haunting book–like I said, I’ve never forgotten it–and I’m glad I got the chance to reread it.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree

Good morning and Happy Saturday, Constant Reader! This is my first full free weekend since Labor Day–no Decadence outreach, no LSU tickets, no Bouchercon, no AIDS Walk. Paul’s off at tennis, despite having an abscessed tooth extracted this past week, and the house is silent–I don’t know where Scooter is, having vanished after getting fed and a his morning handful of ‘you’re a very spoiled kitty here have some treats.’ I am doing laundry and will most likely clean today, but I also intend on working on short stories today. I came across an interesting submissions call the other day that I have an unfinished story that would be perfect for, so I am going to try to finish the story that I was asked for, edit two more, and finish writing that one–and maybe even work on the fratboy porn novel. I have to head out to Walgreen’s at some point, but other than that I don’t even have to leave the house this weekend unless I want to. I may go do some cardio later, but I may leave that up in the air as well.

I am reading several books at the moment–some nonfiction; The Proud Tower and Practicing History: Collected Essays by Barbara Tuchman, in addition to The Tigress of Fiori, which is still on my nightstand, and I am now reading Puppet on a Chain by Alistair MacLean; someone had mentioned him recently on Facebook, and I remembered enjoying his work in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and also that I had never finished reading all of his books. Someone had mentioned Puppet on a Chain as a favorite, and it was one I hadn’t read, so it was off to eBay I went to get a bunch of his work. The first book of his I read was Circus–the young gay boy couldn’t help but be drawn to the cover design of a ripped muscular bare-chested man in white tights falling from a high wire. That may have been my first bare torso book cover purchase….hmmmm.

 

circus
Can’t imagine why that caught my eye, can you?

It’s also, I find, very interesting to read thriller writers from the past, to see how much the genre has changed. Obviously, back then the big enemy was Communism and the Soviets; World War II was also recent enough so Nazis weren’t out of the question, either. I also bought some Helen MacInnes novels I hadn’t read while I was there; I look forward to making my way through that stack of books at some point when I have time.

Ha ha ha ha! I even typed that with a straight face.

So, that’s my day; finishing “Lightning Bugs in a Jar” and “The Scent of Lilacs in the Rain,” editing “The Weight of a Feather” and “Death and the Handmaidens”, cleaning, watching college football, and listening to my new download of Fleetwood Mac’s remastered, deluxe version of the vastly underrated Mirage album, which I am really enjoying. I’d forgotten how much I really liked the album, and the early versions of the songs are, in some cases, better than the version that was eventually released on the album–Christine McVie’s early version of “Hold Me” is less lick, and without those interesting harmonies overdubbed (which I do like, don’t get me wrong), you can see how the song could actually be performed live; and the early version of Stevie Nicks’ “That’s Alright” (one of my favorite songs of hers) is actually much more country; I’ve always thought Stevie should record an album of country songs.

I also may start editing and correcting Bourbon Street Blues, so that ebook can finally get going. It’s been way too long since people have been able to get it anywhere other than ebay and from used bookstores.

Okay, off to mine spice! Have a lovely day, everyone!